Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Report from Syria


The Revolution comes to Damacus - Homes Under Artillery Attack

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-202_162-57382796/syria-violence-intensifies-amid-journalist-deaths/?pageNum=2&tag=contentMain;contentBody

BEIRUT - Syrian forces intensely shelled the opposition stronghold of Homs as President Bashar Assad's regime also escalated attacks on rebel bases elsewhere, with helicopter gunships strafing areas in the northwest, activists said. The violence comes amid the deaths Wednesday of a French photojournalist and a prominent American war correspondent working for a British newspaper. In all, 74 people were killed nationwide.

Weeks of withering barrages on the central city of Homs have failed to drive out opposition factions that include rebel soldiers who fled Assad's forces. Hundreds have died in the siege and the latest deaths further galvanized international pressure on Assad, who appears intent on widening his military crackdowns despite the risk of pushing Syria into full-scale civil war.

"This tragic incident is another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said of the journalists killed.
The Obama administration opened the door slightly Tuesday to international military assistance for Syria's rebels, with officials saying new tactics may have to be explored if Assad continues to defy pressure to halt a brutal crackdown on dissenters that has raged for 11 months and killed thousands.

American, French journalists killed in Syria
Marie Colvin focused reporting on women, children
Syria blogger reportedly killed in shelling

The White House and State Department said they still hope for a political solution. But faced with the daily onslaught by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, officials dropped the administration's previous strident opposition to arming anti-regime forces. It remained unclear, though, what, if any, role the U.S. might play in providing such aid.
France was outraged over the journalists killed.

"That's enough now, the regime must go," said French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
French spokeswoman Valerie Pecresse identified those killed as French photojournalist Remi Ochlik, 28, and American reporter Marie Colvin, who was working for Britain's Sunday Times.

France's Foreign Minister, Alain Juppe, said the attacks show the "increasingly intolerable repression" by Syrian forces. French Communication Minister Frederic Mitterrand said of the journalists killed: "It's abominable."

Syrian activists said at least two other Western journalists -- French reporter Edith Bouvier of Le Figaro and British photographer Paul Conroy of the Sunday Times -- were wounded in Wednesday's shelling, which claimed at least 13 lives.

Syria's stalwart ally and major arms supplier, Russia, remained behind Assad, but said the bloodshed adds urgency for a cease-fire to allow talks between his regime and opponents.

U.S. softens stance on arms for Syria rebels
Syria: Dozens killed; Red Cross urges cease-fire

The Syrian military has intensified its attacks on Homs in the past few days, aiming to retake rebel-held neighborhoods that have become powerful symbols of resistance to Assad's rule. For the government in Damascus, Homs is a critical battleground to maintain its control of Syria's third-largest city and keep more rebel pockets from growing elsewhere.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, a main base of the rebel Free Syrian Army, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that Syrian military helicopters fitted with machine guns strafed the village of Ifis. Syrian combat helicopters are primarily Russian-made, though they also have a number of French choppers.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said troops conducted raids in the Damascus district of Mazzeh district and the suburb Jobar, where dozens of people were detained. In Jobar, the group said troops broke doors of homes and shops and set up checkpoints.

The group also said troops backed by tanks stormed the southern village of Hirak and conducted a wave of arrests.

A Homs-based activist, Omar Shaker, said the journalists were killed when several rockets hit a garden of a house used by activists and journalists in the besieged Homs neighborhood of Baba Amr, which has come under weeks of heavy bombardment by forces from Assad's regime. At least 13 people were killed in Wednesday's shelling, including the journalists, activists said.

The U.N. estimates that 5,400 people have been killed in repression by the Assad regime against a popular uprising that began 11 months ago. That figure was given in January and has not been updated. Syrian activists put the death toll at more than 7,300. Overall figures cannot be independently confirmed because Syria keeps tight control on the media.

On Wednesday, the U.N. said that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon would dispatch Valerie Amos, the undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, to Syria to assess the situation. No date was set.

Twenty of the deaths reported Wednesday were in Homs, where resistance forces include breakaway soldiers. Homs has drawn comparisons to the Libyan city of Misrata, which withstood withering attacks last year by troops loyal to Muammar Qaddafi.

Shaker said tanks and artillery began intensely shelling at 6:30 a.m. and was continuing hours later. He said the apartment used by journalists was hit around 10 a.m.

The intense shelling in parts of Homs -- with blasts occurring sometimes just a few second apart -- has appeared to be indiscriminate over the past week, hitting homes and streets randomly. Some suggested, however, that the house used by the journalists and activists was pinpointed by Syrian gunners.

The French culture minister Mitterrand claimed the journalists were "pursued" as they tried to find cover, but gave no elaboration. A campaigner for online global activist group Avaaz, Alice Jay, claimed the group was "directly targeted."

An amateur video posted online by activist showed what they claimed were bodies of two people in the middle of a heavily damaged house. It said they were of the journalists. One of the dead was wearing what appeared to be a flak jacket.

Another amateur video shows the two injured journalists in a makeshift clinic, lying on two separate beds. The French journalist, Bouvier had her left leg tied from the thigh down in a cast. A doctor in the video explains that she needs emergency medical care. Conroy appears in the video and the doctors say he has deep gashes in his left leg.

Many foreign journalists have been sneaking into Syria illegally in the past months with the help of smugglers from Lebanon and Turkey. Although the Syrian government has allowed some journalists into the country their movement is tightly controlled by Information Ministry minders.


Two Journalists and Blogger Killed in Syria

Marie Colvin, from Oyster Bay, New York, was in her 50s and a veteran foreign correspondent for Britain's Sunday Times for the past two decades. She was instantly recognizable for an eye patch worn after being injured covering conflicts in Sri Lanka in 2001.

Colvin said she would not "hang up my flak jacket" even after the eye injury.

"So, was I stupid? Stupid I would feel writing a column about the dinner party I went to last night," she wrote in the Sunday Times after the attack. "Equally, I'd rather be in that middle ground between a desk job and getting shot, no offense to desk jobs.

Just recently, Colvin reported to the BBC from Homs about the shelling and mentioned seeing a baby die with shrapnel found on the left chest. "There are 28,000 people in Homs where I am, beseiged. They're here because they can't get out: the Syrians will not let them out, and are shelling all the civilian areas," she said in her report.

CBS News correspondent Vicki Barker from London knew Colvin and offered these thoughts: "I know Marie would say that the deaths of those civilians trapped in Homs are far more newsworthy than her own -- a journalist who chose to be there. But journalism has just lost one of its most courageous and clear-eyed witnesses. And her readers have lost a window into worlds few ever dare to tread, let alone describe. And that's worth taking a minute to memorialize, and mourn."

"This is a desperately sad reminder of the risks journalists take to inform the world of what is happening, and the dreadful events in Syria, and our thoughts should be with her family and with her friends," said British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Ochlik, who had set up a photo agency IP3 Press, won first prize in the general news category of the prestigious 2012 World Press Photo contest for his 12-photograph series titled "Battle For Libya."


"I just arrived in Homs, it's dark," Ochlik wrote to Paris Match correspondent Alfred de Montesquiou on Tuesday. "The situation seems very tense and desperate. The Syrian army is sending in reinforcements now and the situation is going to get worse — from what the rebels tell us."

"Tomorrow, I'm going to start doing pictures," he added.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the killings of the journalists, calling them an "unacceptable escalation in the price that local and international journalists are being forced to pay" in Syria.

A statement by Information Minister Adnan Mahmoud said there was "no information" about Colvin, Ochlik and other foreign journalists in Syria who entered without official permission, the state-run news agency SANA reported. It warned all foreign journalists to come forward to "regularize their status."

In London, British diplomats summoned Syria's ambassador to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, asking Syrian officials to facilitate immediate arrangements for the repatriation of the journalists' bodies and for help with the medical treatment of the British journalist injured in the attack.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had no information that the bodies of the two slain journalists had been carried out of Homs.

On Tuesday, a Syrian sniper killed Rami al-Sayyed, a prominent activist in Baba Amr who was famous for posting online videos from Homs, colleagues said.

On Jan. 11, award-winning French TV reporter Gilles Jacquier was killed in Homs. The 43-year-old correspondent for France-2 Television was the first Western journalist to die since the uprising began in March. Syrian authorities have said he was killed in a grenade attack carried out by opposition forces — a claim questioned by the French government, human rights groups and the Syrian opposition.

Last week, New York Times correspondent Anthony Shadid died of an apparent asthma attack in Syria after he sneaked in to cover the conflict.

Elsewhere in Syria, the military intensified attacks.

In the northwestern province of Idlib, a main base of the Free Syrian Army, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claimed that Syrian military helicopters fitted with machine guns strafed the village of Ifis. Syrian combat helicopters are primarily Russian-made, though they also have a number of French choppers.

Another opposition group, the Local Coordination Committees, said troops conducted raids in the Damascus district of Mazzeh district and the suburb of Jobar, where dozens of people were detained. In Jobar, the group said troops broke down doors of homes and shops and set up checkpoints.

The group also said troops backed by tanks stormed the southern village of Hirak and conducted a wave of arrests.

In the Gulf nation of Bahrain, some anti-Assad protesters at a Syria-Bahrain Olympic qualifying football match waved the rebel flag and threw shoes at a small group of pro-regime supporters.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-57382449-503543/american-french-journalists-killed-in-syria/?tag=storyMediaBox;postSpecialReport

Two Western journalists, including veteran American reporter Marie Colvin, were killed in intense shelling by President Bashar Assad's regime in the central town of Homs on Wednesday, according to Syrian activists and the French government.

Activists said both were killed in the shelling of a makeshift media center in the hard-hit neighborhood of Baba Amr early Wednesday morning.

The journalists were identified as veteran American reporter Marie Colvin, who works for The Sunday Times of Britain, and French photojournalist Remi Ochlik. Both had been working on the front lines of uprisings in the Arab world for months. Their identities were confirmed by the French government Wednesday morning, but CBS News has not independently confirmed Colvin's death.

The latest deaths spurred international condemnation and intensified pressure on Assad to step down and end the violence.

"This tragic incident is another example of the shameless brutality of the Assad regime," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

"That's enough now, the regime must go," French President Nicolas Sarkozy said.
Colvin, who lost an eye to a grenade covering Sri Lanka's civil war years ago, had given a harrowing telephone interview to BBC radio from Homs just days before her death.

Describing the damage caused by a near-constant barrage of artillery from state security forces, Colvin recounted watching a toddler die after being wounded by shrapnel.
Marie Colvin focused reporting on women, children

Just Tuesday, Colvin spoke with CNN's Anderson Cooper by phone about the child's death, saying "that baby probably will move more people to think, 'What is going on and why is no one stopping this murder in Homs that is happening every day?'"

Colvin was accustomed to covering violent uprisings, and she lent her insight as a first-hand witness to ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak's crackdown on opposition protesters to CBS News in an interview almost exactly one year ago (click for video).

John Witherow, editor of The Sunday Times, said in a statement that Colvin "believed profoundly that reporting could curtail the excesses of brutal regimes and make the international community take notice."

The bodies of Colvin and Ochlik were removed from the rubble and were taken to a field clinic as efforts to return them home were under way.

Opposition members said three other Western journalists were wounded in the shelling of the makeshift media center - French reporter Edith Bouvier and British photographers Paul Conroy and William Daniels. Bouvier and Conroy were treated for leg wounds. Daniels' injuries were minor. At least 13 were reported dead in Wednesday's shelling.

U.S. softens stance on arms for Syria rebels
Syria: Dozens killed; Red Cross urges cease-fire
Complete coverage: The Arab Spring

The ferocity of the ongoing bombardment of Baba Amr can be seen in numerous videos posted by opposition activists on Youtube. Click the player below for an example of such video, the authenticity of which cannot be independently verified by CBS News as all independent reporting in Syria has been banned by the Assad regime.

February 22, 2012 3:44 AM

Syria blogger reportedly killed in shelling
By Tucker Reals

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-57382435-503543/syria-blogger-reportedly-killed-in-shelling/?tag=contentMain;contentBody

Ferocious shelling by Bashar Assad's security forces in the battered central Syrian city of Homs claimed at least 45 lives on Tuesday, according to activists, including that of a prominent video blogger whose horrifying images of the bombardment spread across the globe on social networking websites, but failed to spark any intervention from the international community.

In his last posting on Facebook, activist Rami al-Said, told people around world he appreciated their emotional backing, but begged the Syrian people's supporters to rally outside Syrian embassies against the shelling, and told them their inaction would not be forgiven.

Al-Said shot a great deal of the internet video which has been the only window for the world into the 18-day bombardment of Homs - a city so dangerous that few foreign journalists have ventured inside for weeks.

Cell phone videos show horrors inside Syria
Syria: Dozens killed; Red Cross urges cease-fire
Complete coverage: The Arab Spring

Meanwhile, activists also claimed Wednesday morning that two Western journalists were killed in the shelling of Homs. CBS News was working to confirm the identity of the journalists. Reports suggested that as many as four other Western journalists were injured in the shelling of a makeshift media center in the the neighborhood of Baba Amr.

Using the online handle "syriapioneer", al-Said chronicled with multiple daily videos and live streams the targeting of Baba Amr, an opposition-held area of Homs which has been battered by mortar and rocket fire for weeks.

His final Facebook post, which has been reposted by numerous activists, was fateful:
"Baba Amro is being wiped out now, complete genocide, I don't want you to tell us our hearts are with you because I know that, I want projects everywhere inside and outside I want everyone to go out in front of the embassies in al...l countries everywhere because we are soon to be nothing, there will be no more Baba Amr - I expect this is a final letter to you and we will not forgive you."

Al-Rami's live video was streamed online by a site called Bambuser - a feed which CBSNews.com has monitored and even relayed to our readers during moments of intense shelling in Baba Amr.

Bambuser's vice president for communications, Eva Voors, posted a blog on the site Wednesday, mourning al-Said as a "very brave Syrian journalist."

According to Voors' post, al-Rami was killed along with three fellow activists by the shelling. He 26, and the father of a 3-year-old daughter.

He posted his last video online just hours before he was killed, according to his fellow activists. It shows just how close to the shelling al-Rami was willing to put himself to show the world what was happening in Homs.

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